By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Arthritis is a general term that many people use to describe pain or swelling in their joints. The health condition affects about one in four US adults (23.7%) or about 58.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Arthritis involves inflammation and joint pain, which can lead to reduced mobility and a lesser quality of life,” said Alysia V. Kwiatkowski, a rheumatologist in the division of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at the University at Buffalo.
Kwiatkowski, who is also program director of the internal medicine residency program at the department of medicine at UB, talks about five aspects of arthritis.
1 — Arthritis causes
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form. Arthritis symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis and its severity. The most common symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It can also cause fever, weight loss and fatigue. When patients ignore symptoms, conditions worsen to the point where it reduces mobility, making daily tasks more difficult. There is also inflammatory arthritis, which often connects to autoimmune issues. Natural wear and tear causes osteoarthritis on the joints and that comes from natural aging, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joints. This can lead to inflammation and pain.
“There are some people who have a genetic predisposition to various types of arthritis. Also we caution patients about being overweight because we know that weight can cause damage to the joints,” said Kwiatkowski.
A person’s chance of developing arthritis increases due to several factors, including age. Rheumatoid on the other hand is more common among women and people with a family history of diabetes.
2 — Treatment
There are a variety of treatments for arthritis. The most effective treatment requires differentiating which type or types of arthritis an individual has. For osteoarthritis, some over-the-counter oral medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen, as well as topical medications such as diclofenac gel, may be effective for mild to moderate arthritis.
“There are times when physical therapy is essential to recovery because it can strengthen the muscle around the joint,” said Kwiatkowski. “When you have strong quads and hamstrings it helps stabilize the knee and other joints.”
Oftentimes over-the-counter products such as BenGay, Aleve or other joint supplements offer short term relief. Those medications reduce inflammation and pain, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Physical therapy also allows improving mobility and reducing pain.
3 — Family History
Most types of arthritis may have a genetic component.
“When speaking with patients, they often tell me their parents or grandparents had similar symptoms,” Kwiatkowski said. “Studies have shown that family history may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. But it doesn’t entirely explain all the aspects of an individual’s risk. The condition can develop with someone with no family history but also often family members are exposed to the same environmental risk factors that could cause rheumatoid arthritis.
“There is a small link between osteoarthritis and people who have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune or rheumatoid arthritis,” said Kwiatkowski. “You see families that have thyroid conditions that pass on the condition that have some connections to arthritis.”
4 — Misconceptions
Arthritis is a very common health issue that can impact a person’s quality of life drastically. Having a better understanding of the variations of arthritis, its risk factors, symptoms and treatments remains essential for managing these issues. Getting diagnosed and treated early along with lifestyle changes will help improve mobility, reduce pain and live a better life.
“People don’t understand that there are more than 150 different forms of arthritis,” Kwiatkowski said.” I see patients where they have inflammation on their joints but it really is wear and tear as the essential issue. You have to know the exact cause and type of arthritis in order to properly offer treatment.”
5 — Don’t push
There is a popular saying that pain is just weakness leaving the body. However, pain is letting the body know there is a problem that should not be ignored. If someone feels pain because of an injury, their first thought shouldn’t be simply working harder.
“If you are experiencing pain, we would rather you see a health care provider so they can diagnose,” she said. “Early detection helps the issue from worsening and can prevent the need for surgery. Don’t simply push through the symptoms.”
Kwiatkowski did stress the need to exercise. She views routine activities as essential for stemming the tide of consistent arthritis pain.
“When you move your joints on a regular basis it helps the joints from being stiff. Your everyday decisions when it comes to your overall health make a significant difference in how your body handles ailments,” Kwiatkowski added.